2008-02-15 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER If you have made the switch from a desktop computer to a laptop computer, you are not alone. Many consumers choose the portability and convenience of laptop computer models over bulky, immobile desktop models, and improved technology makes some laptops as fast as desktops. Unfortunately, laptops have become prime targets for thieves intent on re-selling the machines for cash, using personal information stored on them for identity theft, or even worse, selling this information to unscrupulous individuals. In order to lessen the chances of laptop theft, owners should consider the following security measures and tips.

Security experts recommend that you think of your laptop as cash. You wouldn't leave one thousand dollars lying on the back seat of your car would you? A trunk can provide some level of protection, but it is best to avoid leaving your laptop in your vehicle. Consider carrying your laptop in a briefcase or suitcase, as computer cases can serve as a beacon for thieves; signaling that expensive equipment is inside. If you are sitting down at a table in a hotel room or a public place, use a security device, such as cable to secure your laptop to something immobile, such as a table or large piece of furniture. If you are unable to secure your laptop, remember to keep it off the floor, or be sure to lean it against one of your legs so that you are always aware of its location.

Do you have a password for your laptop? If you use your computer away from home, it is highly recommended that you setup a login password to prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to your files and programs. Never store your passwords in a laptop carrying case or on your laptop.

If you travel with your laptop frequently or often work in public places, you may want to consider additional security measures. You can outfit your laptop with an alarm system that can alert you to unexpected movement or movement beyond a certain perimeter of your person. Some security programs allow stolen laptops to communicate their location once they are connected to the Internet. Remember, these alarm systems are not foolproof, and should only be used as additional security measures.

If your laptop is stolen, report the incident to local law enforcement immediately. If your laptop contained sensitive personal information, such as your Social Security number, credit or debit card numbers or banking account statements, and you are concerned that such information may be used to commit identity theft, you should learn about preventative measures you can take. The Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Identity Theft Website (http:// www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/) is a good place to start.

For more information on laptop security, you may want to visit the FTC's Onguard Online Website at: http://on guardonline.gov/ laptop.html.

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